Day: August 3, 2016

Oatlands (credit DHR)

National memory and the forgotten First Emancipator

The story of Virginian Robert Carter III and the emancipation of 450 enslaved individuals shortly after the founding of the United States is one of the forgotten stories of American history.  However, in our current period of political unrest — much of it centered on racism and questions around who owns the American story — this is an appropriate time to look at how this act of emancipation, and similar acts that took place throughout the South before the Civil War, were buried and forgotten. Thankfully, Andrew Levy’s complex and largely satisfying book The First Emancipator:  Slavery, Religion, and the Quiet Revolution of Robert Carter brought this story the attention it deserves. Levy claims — powerfully and in a way that challenges our core national narrative — that Carter “did something that transcends our ability to listen to our own past.” A recent tour of the National Trust Historic Site Oatlands outside Leesburg, Virginia, with several senior staff led to a discussion of the story of slavery at the plantation.  Robert Carter III was the …